Wednesday, June 3, 2009

10 Questions with Writer Raz Cunningham

Part 2 of our Q & A with the team behind "Our Last Days As Children"

Q: Where did this story come from?

Some of it stems from the power of words and how they sometimes try to define the indefinable, some of it comes from the constrictions of law, but most of it comes the intimate nature of why people make specific choices. A majority of this country’s laws are Tax & Trade related but there are some laws that affect every aspect of someone’s life, that fundamentally shape them whether they know it or not. There are invisible walls all around us; things we can and can’t do, places we can and can’t go; rarely do we ever try to do a little remodeling, and when we make those changes, IF we make those changes, is when we grow up. It’s like an electric fence; the dog knows he can’t cross that invisible line, so he lives his life inside of those unseen borders.

I’ve always felt that part of growing up has a lot to do with doing things on your own, having your own views and values, but most importantly, having not just the knowledge of who you are but why you are the person you are; what made you that way. Just because you’re legally an adult doesn’t mean that you’ve grown up. I also think that how we define things is a big part of who we are. We define them in relation to ourselves. If you think about it, it’s really kind of strange how we let intangible things that aren’t really there shape us.

Q: Why and how did you come to bring it to Two Sisters' Productions, Inc.?

I met Toni Ann Baker and Diane St. Laurent in 2007 while working on another feature. They mentioned they were looking for a feature to produce, so I went through the few stories I had, chose what I thought to be the most viable one at the time and brought it to them. Toni Ann had read it first and called me late at night, woke me up, actually, after she had just read it. “I want to make this script, whatever it takes” was probably the only phrase I remember from the conversation. She handed it off to Diane and she said the same thing. I was so excited that the one script I thought would be the worst received was received so well.

They’ve been nothing but great. They’re sisters; they act like sisters and, as odd as the implications might sound, they show their complete honesty in those moments and it makes me feel safe and comfortable. Diane’s been a great partner to collaborate on the script with and Toni Ann brings incredible insight into the things that Diane and I sometimes miss, which can occasionally be a lot. Together we’ve created a fantastic team of cast and crew, it’s really something special.

Q: What have been the highs and lows during the development stages?

The low was searching for funding. We’ve been searching for a long, long time. The energy and time it takes is a nothing short of a testament to hope. Luckily our efforts have paid off and we’ve raised the majority of our budget, just going back to look for that final chunk. The high has been Revision, plain and simple. I’ve created real people and developed them. I feel responsible for them. It’s a good feeling.

Q: How similar is our world to the world you created.

With the exception of one scientific “fact” it’s exactly the same. In order to make the story work I had to take creative liberty and make the declaration that in this new Universe our biology works a certain way. People always want fiction to conform to their ideals rather than its own internal logic and easily confuse the two.

Q: What audience reactions are you hoping to achieve with this story?

There’s absolutely no question that this film will be seen by two completely different types of people. The most common reaction I’m expecting is for people to discuss the law itself. It’s a controversial issue so naturally there are going to be two diametrically opposed views on it; in favor of and against. That’s what the mainstream will take away from it for sure, which is perfectly fine. I want people to engage in discussions about the nature of identity and humanity as well as civil liberties. People do it every day in very small ways, they just don’t realize it.
I’m really hoping to see how people react to it as a piece of art, beyond the political, and how they connect with these characters. This is a film, and film is art. We’re going to show you things that you’re most likely going to miss the first time around and that’s okay, because you don’t always see art the same way twice. We don’t want to spoon feed the audience and we sure as hell want to make sure they feel that we respect their intelligence. This film is going to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There are going to be many, many different interpretations of a lot in this film, and that’s great because that’s kind of the point, to show that reality itself is subjective.

Q: How would you articulate the themes of this story?

I’m happy you asked “themes” and not “theme” because this film isn’t about just one thing, there isn’t just one theme. The days of the Script Girl from “Sunset Boulevard” saying movies “should say a little something” are over. But I’ll be as blunt as possible, our themes are: Truth in Intimacy, Sacrifice, Identity, Responsibility, Growing up, Interpretation, Language, Choices & Control, and most of all, how both being Loved and Loving can affect us. We’re asking some very tough questions, and we’re not really doing it through dialogue, but rather visuals and subtext. My hope is that the audience will see that even though words themselves are carefully constructed to articulate complicated ideas, the basic and most important aspects of humanity are so much simpler and often don’t need to be spoken at all, that words really do just get in the way sometimes.

Q: What’s the connotation behind the title “Our Last Days As Children”?

It’s two-fold. It applies to our culture within the film as well as the individual characters. Children are dependent; they’re not in control of their own lives. Within the film, society now has the ability to control its own nature and the characters spend a great deal of time growing as people. They’re all different ages. The truth of our society is that sometimes younger people are wiser than their elders. Does wisdom constitute adulthood? Does experience? I don’t know, but that question is woven throughout the film. I’m hoping that audience will asks themselves the same questions.

Q: How did you develop these characters?

I wanted to take a very intimate look at people in their most vulnerable moments, juxtapose those same people in their strongest moments and explore how in the hell they get from one moment to the other. The best way to do that is make them as human as possible, as flawed as possible. Some of these characters are broken people and some of them are rebuilding themselves without even knowing it.

Just the other day I read an article about a man in Florida who choked his girlfriend during an argument about how to load a dishwasher. I understand the draw of that headline, but the more interesting thing to me is what the hell happened to this man that he made this choice at this time in his life? Clearly that argument was about more than just the dishwasher’s penetration issues, there was some deep history these two had. The other question you have to ask is “does it matter how to load a dishwasher?” I remember having an argument when I was about 6 or 7 years old with another kid about which foot which sock goes on. To me, it didn’t matter, to her, it did, so it seems like we’ll always have those childish moments no matter our age; kind of makes you wonder adulthood is really just a sliding scale.

I’ll also be the first to admit that some scenes in this film are dialogue heavy, I wrote them that way for a reason, while other scenes are not, but they coincide with which character is or is not doing the speaking. I’m hoping that people pick up on the nuances of the certain choice of words a character makes, their movements, as well as their positioning in location to others and objects around them; body language says so much more than words do. We also have to acknowledge that words themselves speak volumes about people. Certain people speak certain ways. Certain people dress certain ways. You can usually tell who went to Harvard and who didn’t, but you never really get to see WHY. I wanted to explore that, to explore why people do and don’t make choices.

Q: Did you feel any pressure writing this script?

I did feel pressure, but only in terms of production. I knew where I was in my career, the connections and resources I had, what I could and could not do logistically speaking, so I wrote the script economically in that regard. Some might see that as a restriction, but I didn’t. It also played into setting. Luckily our intimate moments usually happen in our intimate places, so the Shooting Locations weren’t uncommon. This story has no need for special effects, explosions or CGI. Outside of that, I could say whatever needed to be said however I wanted to say it. We’re making this film outside of the studio system, so we can be as bold as we wanted to and make a lot of creative choices that studios would see as risky because they’re different from their usual formula, but its those very same differences that will set this film apart. Although it would be pretty cool to have a man flying around in a big high-tech mechanical suit.

Q: Why is it important for this film to be made?

I can’t really answer that question for a number of reasons, one of which includes a non-disclosure agreement. What I can say is that with this diffusion of culture that’s explored and these characters, that NOT telling it would be… well, I just couldn’t sleep at night. Seriously, if don’t write down what’s in my head my brain won’t let me sleep until I do.

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